THE HISTORIAN AS DETECTIVE by Robin W.--Ed Winks

THE HISTORIAN AS DETECTIVE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

That all history's a detective tale, and all historians merely sleuths, is a hoary truism sometimes employed by disciples of Clio to show that History Can Be Fun. It is offered here as the central insight of a collection of serious writings on historical method, edited by a Yale professor and suspense-novel fan, who draws on the works of over twenty eminent scholars (among them Jacques Barzun, Carl Becker, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and R. G. Collingwood) to prove his point. Some of the selections are interesting and effectively demonstrate the way the historian works, sorting out ""leads and clues"" to solve the mysteries of the past. (cf. Erik Erikson's analysis of Martin Luther's ""fit in the choir""). Others are dull, overlong (occasionally exceeding 40 pages; the book itself runs over 500) or unrelated to the main theme (e.g. C. Vann Woodward's essay on mythologizing the American past). In many instances the editorial comments which precede each excerpt have little to do with what follows. And the whole suffers from the elaborate cuteness with which Winks relentlessly pursues his rather simple idea. The book is broken down into divisions-headed ""Vigilante Justice,"" ""Habeas Corpus,"" ""The Verdict,"" etc. Each individual selection is assigned a coy subtitle (""The Case of the Very Minor Matter""; ""The Secret of the Ebony Cabinet"") and is accompanied by suggestions for companion readings from the oeuvre of such as John Le Carre and Dorothy Sayers. Publisher's hopes aside, this is not likely to have an audience among ""history buffs,"" (they generally don't read methodological treatises). And for serious students--it's a bit too elementary, my dear Watson.

Pub Date: July 16th, 1969
Publisher: Harper & Row